Let's suppose you've been sitting in the chair for about half an hour doing the Mental Relaxation exercises, and you find that your preoccupation with yourself is becoming unbearable. Perhaps it's time to concentrate on something else. Most actors will immediately want to escape to a character; they want to start acting. But there are a few steps that should take place before you start adding the distractions of a fictional being. In fact, it's much better to allow the self full reign, with just a gentle guiding hand and within a tighter sphere of concentration.
Concentration and observation are entwined with one another. In order to concentrate, you need something to focus on. In order to focus on something, you must have observed it first. You have to be aware that something exists, see it, notice it, discover it, investigate it, wonder about it, and care about it enough to focus and turn your concentration on it. What one chooses to focus on, what one chooses to concentrate on, comprises the elements that will make up the playing of a character or part.
Playing a character requires a series of complex choices in any medium, so it's best to start by investigating the raw material of you and discovering your responses to stimuli. In film acting, once a choice has been made, it must be executed successfully while the camera is rolling, and it must incorporate the moments of surprising discovery that will bring the character to life. The well-thought-out gestures of the theater may appear too large for the screen. They may appear too stagy or rehearsed for the critical eye of the camera, and therefore, not honest. The film audience wants to witness the moments of amazing clarity and brutal honesty that this medium can offer, a private viewing of a slice of life. It may be an extraordinary, unrealistic life, but with a performance that rings true to our human instincts. The continuous performance aspect of theater (starting a performance at the beginning and performing uninterrupted until the end) warrants a certain type of shaping and thought that is not necessary in film. The camera and the director will do the shaping. Also, the difference in distance from which the actor is viewed in the two mediums, so intensely close and personal in film and at varying degrees of distance depending on the performance space in theater, causes the film actor to be much more concerned with only the moment at hand. The committed theater actor may experience difficulty when adjusting to this concept and lack of control. In film, most of the time, actors are only required to bring truth to their gesture, and for the camera, the gesture must be like a laser: light, small, and extremely powerful.
The gesture originates from acute observation, but one cannot observe everything all at once all the time. A selection must be made. The selection, or choice, becomes the structure in which the focus can direct itself and concentration can begin to take place. The concentration of the actor should be weightless, accessible, easily carried anywhere, and simple to direct towards anything. Yet, this is rarely our impression of concentration, which usually conjures up ideas of heaviness, difficulty, and stillness. If we want to improve our concentration skills, I think it's best to start by observing how we concentrate.
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